According to Wikipedia, heresy “is any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs.” It is a rebellion against doctrine and tradition. There is a tendency to think of doctrine as good and heresy as bad, but both can be useful.
Recently I watched part of a movie about Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s teacher in the martial art of Wing Chung. In the movie, traditional Wing Chung involved only punching, no kicking. But Ip Man started incorporating kicking into his fighting techniques. You would think this would be welcomed, as it made him a more formidable opponent.
However, followers of “true Wing Chung” were offended by his willingness to reject tradition and adopt new ways. He was ostracized. The father of the girl he had a crush on refused to let her date him because of his heresy. I didn’t see the rest of the movie, but we know that this heretical adaptation of was eventually taught to Bruce Lee. And Bruce Lee became a heretic when he became willing to teach non-Asians. That too came with serious repercussions.
Doctrine and heresy have a back and forth relationship. Exploration leads to discovery. Discovery leads to best practices. Best practices can become codified into tradition and doctrine. When followers of doctrine dare to explore new ideas, perhaps motivated by limitations or failings of doctrine, this exploration leads to yet more discovery and eventually to heresy. The cycle begins again.
Embracing doctrine (or best practices) can help one avoid making the same mistakes others have made. But absolute devotion to doctrine and automatic rejection of heresy can stifle innovation, allowing others to evolve and leaving you behind.
As a Buddhist, I am taught to seek the Middle Way. To welcome the wisdom of those who came before, but also to question it and be open to new ideas. After all, adaptation is a key to survival.
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